Oct 29

Book Review: The Secret Life of Pronouns

The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About UsThe Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us by James W. Pennebaker

If you have a nerd-gasm about statistics, linguistics, and social psychology, this is a must-read book. Bonus points: the author has done the research himself, so it’s not just rehashed from another book you’ve already read (though I’ve seen his work referenced.)
This is the point where I tell you the secret thing your words are saying about you, but Pennebaker is a scientist more than a salesman, so the gist of the book can’t be summarized into neat soundbites. You really have to read it, because your function words say different things in different circumstances.

Best parts of this book: as I’ve already mentioned, it was first-hand research. Most of it deals with using computers to statistically analyze proportions of function words between different speakers in different circumstances. Some of them have creepy potential uses (can tell if you’re depressed, if you’re talking to your mother or your boss, or if you’re at a sporting event by the frequency and word choice). I also liked the story of how he came into this branch of sociology/linguistics. I’d be willing to read books about his other research (using writing to help people who have been through traumatic experiences).

Worst part of this book: It briefly describes some of the terms uses, but for other terms, the author expects you’ll know what he’s talking about. I would have appreciated a glossary. Also, it gets a little predictive and repetitious. Maybe I’m colored too much by self-help books, but I kept expecting the “this is what you should do with this information” but it never got past the “this is cool” stage.

That said, this is an interesting book with an easy, readable style. I recommend this for people who like linguistics, statistics, or social psychology.

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